Day 1: 25th May, en route to Singapore
I saw the lights of the Mumbai city become dimmer and slowly get enveloped by the darkness of the clouds. There wasn’t much to do other than blankly stare at the LCD screen attached to the seat in the front while the Wolf of Wall Street was playing. It was past 1 in the morning and I gave up on the movie shortly after. We were served drinks at 1.50 in the morning and breakfast at 2.15! Despite the unearthly hour the cabin crew was very sweet. Maybe that’s what makes Jet Airways better than JetKonnect.
I was not as fortunate as my sister and my cousin, who somehow managed to sleep despite the non-reclining seat. After struggling for a while I resigned myself to checking the distance remaining and the estimated time needed to cover that distance. As I looked out the window I noticed the colour of the sky lightening slowly. Somewhere under the cottony-white clouds, I could distinguish a red orb. With every passing second the orb grew brighter and bigger. Soon the aircraft was filled with bright yellow light that emanated from it. I don’t recollect seeing such a magical sunrise ever before.
Almost quarter of an hour later we could make out the faint outline of land. As we descended I could point out some structures clearly – the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Merlion, the Esplanade and the Flyer. Seeing the photos online is something, but experience of seeing these structures from an aircraft is in a different ballpark altogether. We touched down at Changi Airport minutes later and made our way to Immigration.
The lady at the Immigration counter was very warm and welcomed us with a smile. It is these little things– punctuality, a simple thank you, or a smile in this case, that can make somebody’s day. We tend to usually underestimate the power of such simple acts of kindness. When I told her that I felt Singapore was a beautiful place, she smiled. The reply she gave really struck a chord. She said that Singapore doesn’t have any natural beauty. All the attractions of the place were developed by people. We Indians, on the other hand, had access to natural beauty. I didn’t know what to say.
We were picked up by the local tour operators and dropped at the hotel in two vans. The drivers were really accommodative and polite. During our stay in Singapore we stayed at the Peninsula Excelsior. The rooms were decent and the location good. The only issue we could have possibly faced was food. Second day onwards, the continental breakfast was included in the hotel package. The rest of the meals were to be taken care of by us. Our group comprised of vegetarians and we preferred to eat in exclusively vegetarian restaurants. We were fortunate enough to find one right next to the hotel – Nalan Restaurant.
The programme for the first day was simple enough. We had only one place to visit – the Night Safari. The pick-up was scheduled at 6 in the evening. We hence had a few hours to ourselves and decided to make the most of it by shopping for local stuff in the malls nearby. The whole scene appeared as if it was a real-life version of Fashion TV. Everything and everybody looked so picture-perfect! After shopping for jewellery we went to explore the electronics store and came across really interesting and innovative gadgets.
The tour operators were very particular about time and arrived sharply at 6. A twenty minute ride later we were at the Night Safari. The actual show was scheduled to begin at about 7 in the evening. We were glad we made well in advance as the place turned out to be jam packed. We caught a glimpse the Thumbuakar Performance (fire show) at the entrance plaza before going for the safari. It was quite a spectacle.
The safari was pretty interesting. Set in a rainforest, the enclosures are divided into seven geographical zones, mimicking the natural habitat of the animals. The lighting of the exhibits appears almost like the moonlight. The thing I liked the most about the safari was that the animals were separated by natural boundaries rather than the cages.
Speaking of the ride, there were three coach open trams, each coach with a capacity of about 20. The ride itself was about 40 minutes long. The safari guide Damian joked that he expected more than half the people on the tram to be asleep because his voice was too soothing. I really enjoyed the show as it was very informative. It was the first time I got to see animals like the Asiatic Black Bear, Spotted Hyena, the Hippopotamus and the Scimitar Horned Oryx. I found it fascinating that the rhinoceros, although having a poor vision, can attack with a speed of 55km/hr when it feels threatened. The animal weights a freaking 1000 kg!
I enjoyed the chance to see tropical animals that are indigenous to the region, such as Babirusa and Malayan Tapir. We didn’t get much of an opportunity to see the lions as they were sleeping but we were completely stunned by the Malayan Tiger exhibit. It was an unparalleled experience seeing so many animals within 10 feet of us. I would have had a lot more to share if my camera had captured the animals like my eyes did.
It was rather regrettable that we had to miss the Creatures of the Night show due to time constraints. I was really looking forward to it. The Safari celebrated its 20th anniversary a day after our visit.
We had dinner at Nalan’s before retiring to our rooms for the day. My sister and I were perhaps the most fortunate as our room provided a good view of the city. Here is the view as seen from the room. (See the Singapore Flyer in the right 🙂 )
Here are a few essential tips to be kept in mind while planning for a tour abroad
- Be aware of the check-in and check-out times of the hotel. Choose your flight accordingly so that slack time is cut down.
- If possible accustom yourself to the new time zone in advance (2-3 days before the journey) so that effect of jetlag is minimum
- If on a limited budget try booking through tour operators as they get better deals.
- In case of a planned tour, it is essential to have a basic idea about the places to visit. Research about the popular places, shopping malls and local markets
- Keep the schedule flexible (In case things don’t work out as planned you should be able to adjust it accordingly).
- It is advisable to find out a little about the restaurants in advance if you have special dietary needs (we had a hard time searching for exclusive vegetarian restaurants)
Here are a few tips while planning to visit the Night Safari
- Have enough rest before going to the safari. You will surely miss out on something interesting if you doze off in the middle of the ride
- The place has almost tropical weather. Having an insect repellent is advisable (I learnt this the hard way).
- If you are enthusiastic about seeing as many animals as possible, I suggest experiencing all the four walking trails (the Fishing Cat Trail, the Leopard Trail, the East Lodge Trail and the Wallaby Trail) in addition to the tram ride.
- The safari is a treat to the eyes. Enjoy the moment and forget the camera. Most cameras fail in low light anyway